WEST CHESTER — Thursday through Saturday, the Giant Center in Hershey will be filled with stories.
There are kids who were seemingly born to wrestle, fulfilling their destinies in one of the most prestigious state tournaments in the country. Then there are those who have overachieved, turning underwhelming youth careers into a postseason ride they’ll never forget.
Wherever the 18 local wresters fit in that spectrum, the state tournament is always a spectacle to behold. Medal or no medal, Hershey is an accomplishment no matter what motivation propelled each wrestler.
“I was a little chubby so I wanted to slim down,” Henderson’s Ray Martin said with a laugh, reflecting on when he committed to the sport in middle school. “I started wrestling a little more and it worked.”
Martin (160 pounds) is one of those underdog stories, maxing out at leagues or districts his first three seasons before things finally clicked his senior year. A 72-41 wrestler his first three years, Martin is 32-4 in his finale and heads to the Class 3A PIAA tournament, which begins at 4 pm Thursday, as the third-place qualifier from the Southeast Region.
“My coaches were always telling me I’m so much better than I was, I just needed to put in more effort and work,” Martin said. “I started to and made improvements and turned into the wrestler I am now.”
Henderson set a team record with four state qualifiers, the most since three Warriors made it in 1997. Freshman Sammy McMonagle (106), sophomore Killian Delaney (113) and junior Luke Phayre (138) will join Martin in Hershey, and fellow senior Matt Phayre (152) was one spot shy of giving the Warriors a fifth.
“It was awesome,” Henderson coach Rob Beighley said of last week’s regional tournament. “I thought we wrestled a really good tournament. They wrestled aggressive and were scoring points.”
If Martin and Phayre are the overachievers of the Henderson quartet, McMonagle and Delaney are more on the natural-born wrestler side of things. Delaney was a runner-up in the Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling championships as an eighth-grader and McMonagle was a PJW qualifier a year ago.
The two have refined each other’s games all season in the practice room.
“(Delaney) makes you finish your shots,” McMonagle said. “He’s always in good position so you have to work harder to get in.”
Delaney is making his second trip in as many years, and after going 1-2 as a freshman, the stakes have been raised this season. Delaney will start with Frankie Bonura, a senior who finished fifth at 106 last year for Moon.
“I’m trying to win a state title, so I definitely can’t lose that first match,” Delaney said. “It wouldn’t affect me if I did, but I’m not losing that first match. I can’t. My goal is to win states.”
Phayre had an up and down postseason, taking second at leagues before dealing with an illness and finishing fourth at districts. Last weekend he lost his first round match but then flipped a result against Downingtown East’s Brett Horne and upset Downingtown West’s Nick Lilley in the consolation semifinals to earn his first trip to Chocolatetown.
“It’s definitely fun winning,” Phayre said. “I was just having a good time and every match I upset someone I got more and more confident.”
Including this season, eight wrestlers have reached states with Beighley at the helm, but a bringing home a medal has been elusive. Jimmy Long was the last to do it for Henderson in 2011.
Getting to the state podium is no easy task, but Beighley is hoping the focus will stay narrow on such a grand stage.
“I hope they take advantage of the trip, just being there,” Beighley said. “Not everyone gets to go there. They just need to take it one match at a time and try to get the win and get to the next round. Everyone there is good, so it’s survival mode and if you can do that you’re going to medal.”
Brennan McBride, 106, sophomore, Coatesville, Southeast third-place: Starts with General McLane’s Andrew Brest, a junior who was the Northwest runner-up. McBride will have to use his size to find success in Hershey.
Sammy McMonagle, 106, freshman, Henderson, SE4: Gets NE3 junior Tal-Reese Flemming of Bethlehem Liberty, who is tall and has some good wins this season. As a freshman, this trip will go a long way to McMonagle’s development.
Killian Delaney, 113, sophomore, Henderson, SE3: Fifth-place medalist Frankie Bonura of Moon is Delaney’s opener. It’s a tough matchup, but the winner has a good shot at reaching the semifinals. Delaney certainly has the look of a kid who could see the podium.
Doug Zapf, 120, senior, Downingtown West, SE1: Along with Zapf, this weight class has five other returning state medalists and a two-time prep All-American in it, so Zapf’s quest to repeat as state champion will not be easy. Winning will come down to takedowns, and Zapf has typically been able to get one when he needs one.
Seth Hoopes, 120, junior, Octorara, SE4: Parkland’s Brandon Kassis, the Northeast’s third-place finisher, makes for a tough pigtail for Hoopes. The Brave will need some of that Octorara grit to survive, and Hoopes is a fighter.
Corey Celenza, 120, junior, West Chester East, SE5: Celenza will need to keep his momentum from last week to get by Twin Valley senior, CJ Morton, in a pigtail. The winner gets Zapf. Reaching Friday, where anything can happen, is doable for Celenza.
Lukas Richie, 126, junior, Downingtown East, SE2: First round opponent, Nick Dolak, is your typical tough kid from Parkland. If Richie can get past him, he’ll have to win one of his next two to place, and his potential foes are beatable if the Cougar is on his game.
Caden Mareno, 132, senior, Unionville, SE3: The Northeast is stacked at this weight, as evidenced by Nazareth’s Ryan O’Grady taking fourth. He will be Mareno’s pigtail opponent, and that will be a good go just to get to SW champ, Colton Camacho of Franklin Regional. If Mareno can keep matches close, his strength is on his feet.
Luke Phayre, 138, junior, Henderson, SE4: Gettysburg’s Joseph Pecaitis will be first for Phayre in pigtails. There are five returning medalists and a two-time West Virginia state champ here, so the Warrior will continue his underdog role.
Nick Lilley, 138, senior, Downingtown West, SE5: In his second trip to Hershey, Lilley will get Hempfield freshman, Ty Linsenbigler, in the pigtails to get to Council Rock North’s Cam Robinson. If Lilley lets loose he’ll have a puncher’s chance to earn some hardware.
Nick Barnhart, 145, junior, Avon Grove, SE3: Barnhart wrestled the tournament of his career last week and looks to keep it rolling against Lower Dauphin senior, Joey Stoak, in pigtails. A win would mean Southcentral champ, Micah Hoffman of Northern York, next.
Ray Martin, 160, senior, Henderson, SE3: In the pigtail, Mount Lebanon sophomore Luke Stout is in Martin’s way, with Solanco’s AJ Wilson on deck. Even if Martin loses early, he will have underclassmen in his path in consis, meaning you can’t count the Warrior out.
Max Hale, 170, sophomore, Downingtown East, SE1: Winning the region gets Hale Solanco senior Ben Root, who no slouch as a returning state qualifier. If Hale can eliminate the big mistake, he has the ability on his feet to make things interesting on Friday.
Andrew DiBernardo, 170, junior, West Chester East, SE2: The Vikings will be welcomed in his first trip to Hershey by Waynesburg Central’s Kyle Homet, who qualified for the third straight year. It’s been since 2004 since a Viking has claimed hardware and DiBernardo would love to end another streak.
Tyler Mousaw, 170, sophomore, Unionville, SE3: Hershey’s Nyiem Flucas is a winnable pigtail for Mousaw, who would get a much-tougher task in Nazareth’s Cade Wilson, next. With no book on Mousaw’s funky style statewide yet, you can’t rule out some drama from the young Indian.
Josh Wileczek, 195, senior, Downingtown East, SE2: If Wileczek can wrestle the way he has this postseason, he can get himself in the mix. Winning his first round bout against Central Dauphin’s Mitchell Talbott would make that much more feasible, however.
Joe Shafer, 195, junior, Downingtown West, SE4: Shafer drew Indiana senior Alex Donahue for his pigtail. The winner would get top-seeded Cole Urbas of State College. It’s gonna be tough sledding for the Whippet, but if he can keep scores low like he did last week, you never know.
Emmanuel Lawal, 285, sophomore, Church Farm, SE3 Class 2A: Lawal gave the Griffins a qualifier for the third straight year. At regionals, Lawal had the most pins in the tournament, with four. He’ll need to keep the falls flowing with Northeast runner-up, Justin Kriner of North Penn-Liberty, in the first round.
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